MANILA—Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Thursday defended President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in the entire Mindanao to neutralize militants linked to attacks carried out by the Maute terror group in Marawi City.
Aguirre said the Chief Executive is in possession of information and reports that are not known to ordinary citizens which could have been used as basis for the declaration.
“The proclamation is in accordance with the Constitution and necessary to avoid the dismemberment of our nation. The President is entitled to be presumed to be regularly performing the duties of his office, of course those who opposed the decision can go to the SC,” Aguirre said when sought for comment.
Under the 1987 Constitution, the President has the authority to declare martial in any part of the country or the entire country for a period of 60 days but Congress, voting jointly, may revoke or extend the proclamation.
The high court on the other hand can invalidate the declaration within 30 days after a petition challenging its legality was raised.
But Aguirre said those who oppose the President’s decision are doing so since “they view it as an obstacle to their own agenda” though he declined to elaborate on the matter.
“It’s better that they see the wisdom of the declaration of martial law and support the president,” he added.
When asked if he issued orders or directive to government prosecutors, Aguirre said “Yes. I met with some Regional and City Prosecutors here in Mindanao and we discussed the change of venue or creation of special courts to protect our judges and prosecutors.”
On Wednesday, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), national organization of lawyers said the proclamation of martial law is within the powers of the President under the 1987 Constitution and appears to have valid basis.
The IBP assured the public that the Constitution provides safeguards to make sure that martial law “will not result to any diminution of their rights and that civil and judicial authorities will continue to function except in places where the continuation of such functions has been rendered difficult.”
The IBP cited the order of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno on Wednesday for courts in Mindanao to remain open despite the existing martial law.
“The IBP support all legal means to end this unrest in Mindanao and encourage the achievement of peace through lawful means,” the IBP said in a statement.
Meanwhile, President Duterte assured the public that he will not allow abuses in the implementation of martial law in Mindanao amid concerns raised on the possibility of human rights abuses similar to those perpetrated during the Marcos era.
“I will assure you I am not willing to allow abuses. Government is still running, the Congress is functioning, and the courts are open for citizens to seek grievance,” Duterte said in press briefing on Wednesday shortly upon arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport from a shortened official visit to Russia.
The Chief Executive also assured the public that in all decisions and actions, the primordial concern is the safety and welfare of the people.
“It is our Constitutional mandate to enforce the law and provide security. It is our Constitutional duty to ensure that every family, every community, all Filipinos, are assured to live in peace and harmony. We will stay true to our mandate and duty, this I can assure everyone,” Duterte said.
The clashes erupted after security forces troops raided the hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader who has been tagged as the head of the terror group in the Philippines.
Duterte said the series of terror acts committed by the Maute group, which include seizing and burning of several government facilities, establishment of checkpoints within the city and hoisting the flag of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) flag, constituted the crime of rebellion.
The acts committed by the terrorist group also resulted in the loss of lives of government forces as well as the displacement of innocent civilians.
“These things government cannot allow. It is an open defiance and the violence, the atrocities continue. Government must put an end to this. I cannot gamble with ISIS because they are everywhere. And, you know what is happening or you must be very aware of what happened in the Middle East,” the President said.
With the declaration of martial law, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is likewise suspended in the entire Mindanao island, including the provinces of Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu.
“Checkpoints will be allowed; searches will be allowed; arrest without a warrant will be allowed in Mindanao. And I do not need to secure any search warrant or a warrant of arrest,” President Duterte said.
However, the President said that law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about the imposition of martial law.
“Remember that this is not intended for the law-abiding citizens. We are the least of your worry,” he said.
“But if you confront government, and my orders are one: to enforce the law. And anyone caught possessing a gun and confronting us with violence, my orders are shoot to kill,” he said.
“I said, I will not allow abuses. The courts are open. But anyone now holding a gun, confronting government with violence, my orders are spare no one. Let us solve the problem of Mindanao once and for all,” Duterte said.